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Former U.S. Secretary of Education, auto industry leader speak at Northwood commencements

May 11, 2022

Betsy DeVos, Alan Jay Wildstein bestowed with honorary doctorates

Northwood University on Saturday celebrated its newest cohort of graduates during commencement ceremonies that included keynote presentations from former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Alan Jay Wildstein, a highly successful entrepreneur in the automotive industry.

Wildstein spoke at the morning commencement ceremony held in Riepma Arena on Northwood’s Midland campus. Wildstein is the founder, president, and CEO of the Alan Jay Automotive Network. Now in its 30th year, his business grew from one dealership to multiple locations throughout southern Florida and Michigan.

Wildstein, a proud alumnus of Northwood University’s Class of 1989, resides in Sebring, Florida. He attributes his automotive group’s success to treating customers like family.

Wildstein told this newest cohort of Northwood graduates that the friendships they developed here at Northwood will last a lifetime.

I want to assure you one thing today: It was all worth it,” he said. “Congratulations graduates … Please support your alma mater.”

Wildstein values philanthropy, and he has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to serving and sharing his success with the community in which he and his team work, live, and play. The network has long been regarded as one of the region’s largest community partners, supporting hundreds of organizations, events, and individuals every year.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” isn’t just a Winston Churchill quote to Wildstein; They are words he embodies. His entrepreneurial spirit and service have been driving forces that better the lives of others. In business and life, Wildstein personifies Northwood’s values in that he has used his distinctive talents, and their potential to make a difference through a life well spent.

The Honorable Betsy DeVos, the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education, was the keynote speaker of the afternoon graduation ceremony.

For more than three decades, DeVos has been tireless in her pursuit of public policy reforms that get government out of the way and allow all students the freedom, flexibility, resources and support they need to choose where, when and how they learn.

Her advocacy has helped create new educational choices for K-12 students in more than 25 states and the District of Columbia and expanded post-high school education options for students and adult learners alike.

DeVos also is an accomplished business leader, having chaired The Windquest Group, a privately held investment and management firm based in Michigan. She is the former chair of the American Federation for Children, The Philanthropy Roundtable, and the Michigan Republican Party.

During her address, DeVos challenged graduates to put their newly-gained skills to work in the service of others by protecting freedom and advancing opportunities for those around them.

“For me, that cause has been expanding educational opportunities to those who are denied them today. To the ambitious and capable student, who, through no fault of their own, is assigned to a school that just doesn’t meet her needs. To the parent who wants something better for his son, but just can’t afford to make the change. To the teacher who wants the freedom to teach timeless truths, not agenda of someone else,” DeVos said. “Perhaps your endeavor will also be in education reform. Or perhaps healthcare. Technology. “Whatever your next life chapter, I hope you will remember and defend the timeless truths, understand that life comes at you fast, and embrace the unexpected. Lean into life and make a difference in our world.”

Wildstein and DeVos both received Northwood’s honorary doctorate, which is the university’s highest academic recognition for individuals who have contributed to society in a meaningful way.

“Through their accomplishments, ideals, and support, our communities have become better places and our nation has benefited,” stated President Kent MacDonald regarding Northwood’s Gallery of Distinction, which is comprised of individuals who have received honorary doctorates from Northwood. “These leaders have won recognition in business, their professions, fine arts, education, and religion. Their involvement in the thrust of The Northwood Idea will continue forever.”

The master of ceremonies was Professor DeLois Leapheart, who began teaching at Northwood in 1992, and is the director of Northwood’s award-winning Mock Trial Team.

Northwood was grateful to Colette Morris, of Gladwin, and Katherine Waligorski, of Fenton, who performed The National Anthem at the morning and afternoon ceremonies, respectively. Morris earned her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in management and economics from Northwood University, and she is earning her master’s degree at the DeVos Graduate School of Management.

Waligorski is a 2011 graduate with a BBA in Sport Management. She is going into her seventh year as an admissions representative/athletics liaison at Northwood University.

Lead marshals included Dale Matcheck, who chairs Northwood’s Economics Department, and Todd Thomas, associate academic dean and professor at the DeVos Graduate School.

Elgie Bright, who chairs the Automotive Marketing and Management undergraduate program, and Lisa Fairbairn, assistant vice president and dean at the Devos Graduate School, provided the invocation and benediction at the morning and afternoon commencements, respectively.

This year, 654 graduates participated in the commencement ceremonies.

Recordings from Saturday’s Graduation Ceremonies

Morning commencement recording

Afternoon commencement recording

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